Here’s a link to the agenda for the February 15, 2017 City Council meeting: https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-february-15-2017/.
We’ll be voting on the Council Priorities document, plus two Public Works Department contracts and several resident Committee appointments. In addition, we’ll be discussing – but not voting on – a request for an extension of tax breaks to a local non-profit affordable housing provider; City policies relating to painting curbs to indicate no parking areas; and whether we should make any changes to the criteria that govern our resident Boards, Commissions and Committees. Before the start of the regular Council meeting at 7:30 PM, we’ll be meeting at 6:00 PM in a session that’s closed to the public to discuss legal services issues.
Council Priorities. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170215-1.pdf. We’ll be voting on our 2017 Council Priorities document, which will form the basis for our budget and policy decisions in the coming year. This year’s document includes many items from last year which are still being worked on, as well as the five key overall priorities. It also features a number of new ideas such as expanded youth summer programs; preparing for possible Trump administration actions related to our Sanctuary City status; moving forward on the Library renovations; increasing our efforts in energy efficiency and renewable energy; renewed focus on our tree canopy and revising the tree ordinance to make it easier to understand; and developing a better system for advance notice to residents of utility and street repair work. I thought the 2016 document was very useful in helping map out our actions last year, and I’m pleased that we’ll be using this revised version for 2017. I’ll be voting in favor of the priorities document.
Salt Dome Cover. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170215-2.pdf. The cover of the City’s snow treatment salt storage facility is nearing the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced. We’ll be voting on a contract to do that, with the necessary funds available in the budget for this year. I’ll be voting yes.
Parking Lot Resurfacing. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170215-3.pdf. The lower parking lot at the Municipal Center is deteriorating and needs to be resurfaced. We’ll be voting on a contract to resurface half of the lot, with the remainder to be completed next year. City staff proposes spreading out the work over two years in this fashion to stay within budgetary constraints. While I’ll likely vote in favor of the contract, I do plan to seek clarification as to whether delaying is fiscally prudent, given that it may increase the overall cost of the work (taking into account the anticipated higher costs next year).
Committee Appointments. There are several openings on the City’s Arts and Humanities Committee, and the Committee on the Environment. I suspport the proposed appointments to fill them.
Montgomery Housing Partnership Tax Issue. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170215-6rev.pdf. We’ll be discussing the request from local area non-profit Montgomery Housing Partnership to extend the reduction in property taxes it receives as a condition of providing affordable housing at several MHP properties in Takoma Park. I’m generally supportive of the idea or providing financial incentives to help apartment owners make units available at affordable prices, and I look forward to learning more about this request from MHP.
Curb Painting. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170215-7.pdf. One of the recommendations of the Residential Streetscape Task Force several years ago was discontinuing the use of yellow paint on curbs to designate no parking areas, except in “truly hazardous” situations, meaning that yellow curb paint would no longer be used as a passive no parking indicator. Since the acceptance by the Council of the Task Force report in 2015, the Public Works Department has generally refrained from painting curbs.
I share the goals of the Task Force, and I agree we should take steps to minimize unsightly practices that may detract from the unique character of our community. I also have been contacted by a number residents who have pointed out unsafe situations because of, for example, cars parked too close to their driveways that make it dangerous because of poor visibility to pull out into busier streets like Piney Branch Road. I don’t object to a general policy of holding down the use of curb painting to improve the appearance of our streetscape. Within that context, I think we need to find a way to have more flexibility for safety concerns around driveways and intersections, where poor visibility can pose problems. I look forward to exploring how best to strike a reasonable balance on both of these important goals.
City Boards, Commissions, and Committees. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170215-8.pdf. One of the best aspects of civic life in Takoma Park is the large number of local volunteer boards, commissions and committees. The members of these panels are appointed by the Council, and assist the municipal government in policy development and in some cases make quasi-judicial decisions. In my time on the Council I have found these entities to be composed of dedicated members who make valuable contributions to the community.
We’ll take a step back and consider the work of these groups more broadly, including whether we should make changes to the requirements, practices, criteria for membership, etc. that apply to them. In that context, I think it would be worth looking at enhanced diversity and geographical distribution; term limits or staggered terms; more frequent reports to staff and Council; and changes to professional and personal background requirements for members. To be clear, it's my view that the current system is generally functioning well, but if there are changes that could help strengthen the work that’s being done by our hard-working local volunteers, we ought to give the ideas some thought.
As always, please feel free to be in touch with questions or comments about any of the above agenda items or other municipal issues. Thanks.
Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Councilmember, Ward One