Here is a link to the February 1, 2017 City Council Agenda. We have no votes scheduled this week. There are three work sessions, which will be devoted to the following: a follow-up discussion on the joint meeting of the Tree Commission and City Council; consideration of the Committee on the Environment’s priority recommendations ; and a review of the proposed vendor for the housing and economic development strategic plan.
Follow-up From Last Week’s Council Update. As I previously reported, one of our agenda items for last week’s Council meeting was election synchronization (that is, shifting our ballots from odd to even years in order to increase voter turnout). I support synchronization, and on Monday, January 23, along with Takoma Park City Clerk Jessie Carpenter and Takoma Park Board of Election member Arthur David Olson, I attended a meeting of the Montgomery County Board of Elections that included this topic. The opportunity to attend the meeting arose after I had sent out last week’s update, so my participation didn’t end up in that report. I was pleased that, with my two colleagues, I had the opportunity to make the case to the County Board for Takoma Park’s synchronization proposal. And I was gratified that the Board – on a unanimous voice vote following our presentation and the subsequent discussion – moved to start the process of developing a Memorandum of Understanding with Takoma Park to govern the joint election process with the County necessary to make synchronization a reality. There are a number of steps that must still occur before synchronization can actually be approved and implemented (including sign-off by the State of Maryland and changes to the Takoma Park City Charter), but this was an important step forward.
Tree Commission. The Council and the Tree Commission met on December 14 to discuss a range of issues related to our tree policies, including the operation of the Commission; the role of the Urban Forest Manager (the new title for the City Arborist); Tree Commission priorities and recommendations; possible changes to the Tree Ordinance; and issues related to public utility projects and their impact on our tree population. It was a wide ranging conversation that covered those and other issues in considerable detail. The Commission has now reported back to the Council with their recommendations, and we’ll have the opportunity to explore these topics in detail. There are two relevant documents, here and here.
For this week’s discussion, one of the key areas I think we should continue to focus on is improved coordination with utilities like Pepco that periodically trim or remove trees. That would include both better advance notice to affected homeowners, stricter review and monitoring of non-hazardous trees that may be slated for removal, and a better way of handling trees in public areas including public rights of way. I would also like to see more outreach and education within the community on the part of the Urban Forest Manager and perhaps the Tree Commission, plus better record keeping and follow-up of permitting decisions. In addition, I think it’s vital to make the Ordinance easier to understand, and to consider more flexibility in the permit appeal process and for homeowners who are interested in installing solar power systems. Whether we’ll be able to delve into all of those items at a single meeting remains to be seen, but if not I’ll plan on raising them in the future.
Committee on the Environment. Following a joint meeting with the Committee on the Environment, the Council approved a set of Green Team priorities for the coming year. At this week’s Council meeting, we’ll be exploring several top tier priorities including energy efficiency, renewable energy, the urban tree canopy (which of course is connected to the Tree Commission recommendations), and water quality. The Committee has produced some very detailed background papers on these and related topics, and we will be using those papers as the basis for our discussion. Among the topics I would like to cover are options for promoting increased tree planting, especially in the less “treed” parts of town, and also ways of incentivizing tree planting by single family homeowners. Additionally, I would like to explore how we may be able to use the new affordable housing fund the Council established in this year’s budget to promote greater energy efficiency. On water quality, as I have mentioned previously, I’d like us to consider providing financial incentives to help residents install storm water management projects.
Housing and Community Development Vendor. This year’s budget set aside $90,000 for creating an economic development strategic plan. While I wasn’t a supporter of that funding item, I do think it’s positive that the RFP the City put out late last year for this contract included housing (along with economic development) as an integral part of the plan. Combining these two areas, which are obviously linked in a number of ways, will I believe help us utilize more the affordable housing monies we also approved in this year’s budget more effectively.
The City’s RFP for the contract to develop the plan received six responses, and Staff have selected the winning proposal from the Cloudburst Group, a firm is based in Landover, MD. You can see background information on the RFP here. The Council will have an opportunity this week to review the winning bid, with the expectation that we would vote on whether to award the contract to Cloudburst at our February 8 Council meeting.
Please feel free to be in touch with any questions or comments about these agenda items or other Takoma Park issues. You can see my previous posts about Council business and other municipal matters here.
Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council, Ward One