Sunday, September 27, 2015

Update on Takoma Junction development, Orchard Avenue development, and more at the Sept 28 city council meeting

Yesterday's Takoma Junction
Yesterday's Takoma Junction
Neighborhood Development Company (NDC), the city's chosen Takoma Junction development partner, will present an update on plans at the Monday evening, September 28 city council meeting. The presentation by NDC CEO and founder Adrian Washington and Michael Gilioni, analyst, acquisitions and development, is scheduled for 7 pm to 8 pm. Join us at the community center auditorium or view video via city TV live-streaming.

The city maintains a Takoma Junction redevelopment page. The council met last week to review a development agreement drafted by the real-estate attorneys retained by the city to assist us with the Takoma Junction process. NDC may request changes to the draft; once signed, the agreement will provide a framework for next steps include community design meetings and stakeholder consultations, including with the TPSS Co-op.

The Regular Meeting

The full September 28 council agenda is online. Public comment is scheduled for 8 pm, followed by a number of voting items.

Orchard Avenue Site Plan Comment

The first voting item is a Resolution Commenting on Site Plan for 6413 Orchard Avenue. Maggio Roofing plans to build a two-story storage structure at the site, which is adjacent to residences and close to an existing community garden and the planned Sligo Mill Overlook Park and playground, which are situated on Orchard Avenue. The site is a block from New Hampshire Avenue, but the existing street grid routes commercial traffic including trucks past the garden and park-playground site.

While the 6413 Orchard Avenue plan is of particular interest to Pinecrest neighborhood residents and businesses, commercial-corridor development has impacted and will affect residents in many Takoma Park neighborhoods, particularly along New Hampshire Avenue. The proposed Taco Bell, at New Hampshire Avenue and Holton Lane, is another, immediate example. The steps the city takes in the Orchard-Sligo Mill area -- beyond the council resolution on Monday evening's agenda -- and our to-be-discussed position on the Taco Bell site plan will show the degree of regard we pay to residents' concerns while accommodating business requests.

Elections and Council Compensation

The council will vote Monday evening whether to put an advisory question on the 2015 ballot for referendum vote, whether to change the municipal election year to even years in order to align city elections with federal, state, and county general elections, and we will hear a presentation by the Council Compensation Committee regarding recommendations for council salary adjustments. Visit the meeting agenda page for these and other items, and do relay your views to me by e-mail, sethg@takomaparkmd.gov, or phone, 301-873-8225.

The 2015 Election

Finally, the nominating caucus for the 2015 election takes place Tuesday evening, September 29, starting at 7:30 pm. Election Day is November 3, preceded by several days of early voting.

The last day to register to vote via the Maryland State Board of Elections or the Montgomery County Board of Elections is October 13. Given Takoma Park same-day registration and voting, enacted in 2013, for city elections, residents (including non-citizens and 16 & 17 year olds) may register any time, up to and including the day of the election.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

City Council, September 21: Taco Bell, city committees, and more

The first agenda item at Monday evening's city council meeting -- following preliminaries that include 7:30 pm public comment -- is dryly titled "Presentation and Discussion of Site Plan Application for N.E. Quadrant of New Hampshire Avenue and Holton Lane (Taco Bell)." Key in on the last bit:

A San Antonio, Texas franchisee, MUY Companies, proposes to construct a Taco Bell restaurant at New Hampshire Avenue and Holton Lane, a location along a stretch that the city hopes to revitalize as The New Ave. MUY is required to file a site plan for Montgomery County Planning Board review that looks at, per the city council backgrounder, "landscaping, parking, and building specifics." The city may choose to comment on the site plan and call for rejection, approval, or approval with conditions.

I don't have any thoughts to offer on Taco Bell per se. I am distressed, however, about MUY's proposed mini-sprawl site design. The city seeks to encourage "quality, mixed-use, pedestrian oriented projects" along the New Ave. Design guidelines call for higher-density, multi-story development that will help us realize a smart-growth vision, centered on transit-friendly development, along New Hampshire Avenue, the city's most important commercial corridor.

The proposed project is a single-story building with a drive-thru service window. The proposed project detracts from the New Ave vision. It will degrade its location and offer lamentably few benefits for residents.

MUY Companies should eliminate the drive-thru and create a multi-story building with, if they still wish, Taco Bell as the ground-floor business. Failing these steps, I disfavor the proposed site plan.

If they chose to partner with local owners -- part of Takoma Park's ethos is a preference for small, locally-owned businesses -- that would be even better.

(Please see also my April 2015 write-up, Taco Bell in Takoma Park?!)

The full agenda for the Monday evening, September 21 council meeting is online.

Takoma Junction Legal Advice

The council plans to meet in closed session, "to receive legal advice regarding a development agreement with NDC for the City-owned lot in Takoma Junction," prior to the 7:30 pm start of the public meeting. NDC is the Neighborhood Development Company, the developer chosen by the city to pursue construction on the city-owned Takoma Junction parking lot. We're making progress on a careful process toward Takoma Junction revitalization. Additional community meetings with the developer should be scheduled soon.

City Boards, Commissions, and Committees

Three agenda items follow the Taco Bell site plan presentation and discussion. They are discussions of:

- A Bus Shelter Contract with Signal Outdoor Advertising, LLC
- State Legislation including Bond Bills
- The Appointment Process for City Boards, Commissions and Committees

The state legislation item will include a look ahead to the 2016 legislative session, which opens in January. Over the summer, the city forwarded three legislative action requests to the Maryland Municipal League, but of course we have many other interests we may wish to pursue in the next session. I'll single out one: state bond funding toward library renovation. Senator Jamie Raskin and Delegate Sheila Hixson have indicated willingness to submit bond bills, which could provide a few hundred thousand dollars toward the overall project cost should the city move ahead with library renovation.

The item on city boards, commissions, and committees is scheduled for 9:30 pm. Community members devote thousands of hours annually to this form of city service. Thank You! to all who participate; there are many opportunities to get involved. The Recreation Committee and Arts and Humanities Commission in particular could use new members.

Monday evening's discussion will cover our approach to recruiting and appointing applicants. This topic is especially significant because committee service (along with participation in tenant and neighborhood associations and community volunteering) is a very important element in maintaining responsive, inclusive city government.

Contact

Finally, my council service will end in two months. Until that time, I'll continue to do my best to represent and serve Ward 1 resident and other city stakeholders. As always, please contact me at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225 with city-related questions and concerns.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Montgomery College Facilities Master Plan update

I attended the Montgomery College meeting last week, on the planned Facilities Master Plan update, as did Jason Damweber and Roz Grigsby for the city. Residents attending included Lorraine Pearsall, Paul Chrostowski, Peter Kovar, and Richard Weil.

I'll give a few highlights from the meeting, and I ask residents to please contact the council (clerk@takomaparkmd.gov or direct councilmember contact or public comment at a meeting) to ask the council to enact a resolution commenting on the plan.

- The Facilities Master Plan covers all three campuses: TP/SS, Gaithersburg, and Rockville.

- The schedule is compressed. MC plans to come up with a plan, covering the 3 campuses, and present it at public meetings December 8, 9, 10 (one at each campus), then present it to the MC board on December 14 and seek board approval January 25. The plan is due to the state February 1.

- MC hadn't planned a public comment period and said the facilities master plan is not subject to Montgomery County Planning Board Review. A Planning Board rep who was there, Marc DeOcampo, disputed that and said he believes there's a mandatory 60 referral period.

- In any case, MC says there won't be much new in the plan, that it will include building reconstruction that was in the 2006-16 plan that never happened. I believe that includes the science center buildings. MC foresees reconstruction in place rather than on the Burlington Ave parcel that's owned by the MC Foundation or onto the self-store parcels, which they'd have to acquire.

- The City Council passed a 2008 resolution commenting on a Facilities Master Plan Update. It's at http://cityclerk-takomapark.s3.amazonaws.com/resolutions/2008/r200862.pdf.

Dewey Yeates, MC's facilities and security vice president, said MC would be willing to meet with the city/neighbors during the course of creation of the Facilities Master Plan update, but of course there's nothing to react to right now.

I am asking my council colleagues to consider a resolution stating a city position on MC TP/SS facilities. It would reiterate points from the city's 2008 resolution, updated for current conditions of course, and perhaps include something about the compressed schedule and lack of a meaningful public comment period.

Based on conversations with the neighbors who attended, we should continue council advocacy of neighborhood-scale facilities in the Takoma Park portion of the campus.

Seth, 301-873-8225

Monday, September 7, 2015

September 8 council update: Carroll Ave bridge closure and discussion about moving city elections to even years

Happy Labor Day to all!

The city council's summer recess is over. The are five items on the meeting agenda for Tuesday, September 8. I'll give a run-down on the whole of the agenda and focus on two items, traffic calming associated with pending Carroll Ave bridge closure for reconstruction and discussion of a referendum on moving city elections to even years.

The meeting will open with a 7 pm public hearing on priority needs and proposed projects for Community Development Block Grant funding. CDBG is a federal program that targets persons or households of low and moderate income. If you have views on priorities, please attend and speak.

We will then, at 7:10 pm, have a report from the Emergency Preparedness Committee and emergency manager, followed by discussion and then the start of the regular meeting including public comment on other agenda items and city matters. At 8:10 pm, we're slated to discuss a site plan for a proposed project at 6413 Orchard Avenue, in the city's Pinecrest neighborhood.

A Referendum on Moving City Elections to Even Years

Councilmember Tim Male has proposed a referendum item, for the city's 2015 ballot, on moving city elections to even years, when they would coincide with non-municipal general elections. The aim is to boost voter participation in city elections, taking advantage of the higher voter turn-out generated by county, state, and federal races.

Material for September 8 council agenda item, which includes discussion of other 2015 election matters including early-voting dates, is online.

At this point, I support Councilmember Male's proposal and am leaning toward Option 2, which includes the clause "assuming voting rights can be maintained for 16-17 year olds, non-citizens and people with felony convictions who are on parole." I will explain my support, but also I'd very much like to hear your view regarding a referendum item.

Takoma Park has had non-U.S. citizen voting for many years, for municipal elections only of course. We introduced 16 year old voting, and voting rights for on-parole and on-probation felons, in 2013, along with candidate access to apartment buildings and same-day registration and voting including on election day, this year November 3. These steps aim to encourage civic inclusion and to redress voting and voter-registration disparities. I wrote about these disparities in my February, 2013 "Let's Enfranchise Takoma Park Renters and Strengthen the Right to Vote!"

Even-year voter turn-out should better reflect the proportion of minority and renter residents than we see in our current odd-year city elections. There is risk that attention to city issues and candidates would be drowned out by news from the larger races and that many voters will be making uninformed choices among city candidates, but I can't see how we'd be worse off than we are now, when turn-out for (rare) hotly contested races barely exceeds one-third. And there's a limitation: A switch to even-year voting won't enfranchise the disproportionate number of minority and renter residents who aren't registered to vote. Yes, disparities will remain, but we should move forward where we can and keep working on additional steps.

What do you think about placing the voting-year change on the 2015 ballot?

Council discussion is scheduled for 9:30 pm.

Carroll Avenue Bridge Closure

Finally, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) is slated to begin rehabilitation of the Carroll Avenue bridge, near Washington Adventist Hospital, this fall. (The SHA will hold an informational meeting on September 24, 6-8 pm, at the Takoma Park fire station).

A city council discussion of temporary traffic calming measures, designed to mitigate the impact of the bridge closure, is scheduled for 8:50 pm. But because Ward 1 will be least-affected of the city's six wards by traffic changes caused by the bridge closure, I expect to defer to my council colleagues in this discussion.


Please contact me with questions or concerns about these or other city matters, at sethg@takomaparkmd.gov or 301-873-8225.