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Welcome to my blog, which features frequent updates on local Takoma Park issues, including City Council meeting agendas, plus occasional commentary on national news and politics.

March 1, 2017 City Council Agenda

Dear Neighbors:

The following is a link to the City Council agenda for March 1, 2017: https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-wednesday-march-1-2017/. This week’s meeting includes an important public hearing on the Election Synchronization proposal, which I encourage interested residents to attend. In addition, we’ll be taking a final vote on extending the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) for Montgomery Housing Partnership to help MHP continue providing affordable housing at several properties, and we’ll be voting on resolutions on pending state legislation, and a resolution relating to housing for refugees. Finally, we’ll have a work session discussion on a possible change to the City Code relating to wheelchairs and bicycles on sidewalks. We’ll begin at 6:00 PM with an administrative session (which is closed to the public) regarding legal services.

Update from Last Week’s Council Meeting.   Following a presentation and discussion on the proposal for a Memorial Scatter Garden (where Takoma Park residents could place the cremated ashes of their loved ones, along with a marker in their honor), the Council took a straw vote on whether City staff should continue working with proponents of the project. The vote was 4 – 3 against proceeding (I voted with the majority). Since this wasn’t a formal vote, there’s nothing to prevent the idea from being brought up again at a later date, and the proponents have indicated they plan to continue refining the concept. But for now the City is not officially involved. As I’ve noted previously, I understand the desire on the part of many Takoma Park residents to “stay” in the City after their passing. But I continue to have doubts about whether this is something we should take on as a municipality.

We also had a presentation of the Police Department’s Annual Report from Chief Goldberg and his staff. I’ll plan on sending a separate message with more details when I receive responses on some issues I asked about in written form. One notable point that came up was that, in addition to an overall downward trend in most categories of major crimes, there has been a substantial reduction in burglaries in recent months in the areas of the City close to the Washington, DC borderowing in part to some recent arrests. In addition, at my request, the Chief indicated a willingness to take another look at automobile speeds on the portion of Philadelphia Avenue between Piney Branch and Montgomery College (where the speed limit is currently 30 mph) in order to assess whether we should seek a reduction in the speed limit to 25 mph (as it is between Maple and Carroll Avenues), an idea I support.

We also discussed the Mutual Aid Agreement between Takoma Park and the City of Laurel. Though the two cities don’t share a border, they both have emergency response (SWAT) teams, and the agreement will make it easier for the Takoma Park and Laurel teams to cooperate should there be a more serious incident that could require SWAT action. I also asked about our pending Mutual Aid Agreement with Washington, DC (which is important in continuing to make progress on burglaries and other crimes in areas of Takoma Park along the border). Our Chief stated that we won’t be able to finalize the agreement until a new DC Chief is appointed, and that he hoped it could be done soon after that.

Other Important Local Matters.  Yesterday afternoon, I attended the second community meeting organized by the Takoma Junction Advisory Committee, which included an introduction by a representative of Street Sense, a consultant working with developer NDC on the Junction project. The meeting also featured an opportunity to discuss with Street Sense and NDC staff a range of design options, which meeting attendees were able to express their support for or opposition to. I thought the meeting was valuable and the process was helpful in gaining a better understanding of potential alternatives. Those who didn’t attend the meeting can weigh in on the options via this survey: https://www.surveylegend.com/survey/#/d29yZHByZXNzMjE3NzA=~-KdbFizuj6OugaiLX-56.

There are two more scheduled meetings: on March 9 from 7:00 – 9:00 PM in the Community Center Azalea Room and on March 12 from 3:00 – 5:00 PM at the Fire Station meeting room. Those meetings are focused on access, transportation and the like. Given the short lead time on the announcements of the meetings, I’ve mentioned in the City Council and to committee members (and I reiterated this with Street Sense and NDC staff yesterday) that it’s my sense we should have more than just the four meetings scheduled so far, and I’m optimistic we’ll be able to do so.

In addition, as part of our ongoing efforts to respond to Montgomery College’s proposed construction and renovation plans in North Takoma, the City and the College have agreed to hold several public meetings (starting on the evening of March 21 at the Community Center) to begin to explore how to address MC’s academic needs while preserving the residential character of the neighborhood. I’m hopeful these meetings will lead to a focused review of options that will help us reach an agreement on MC’s future construction plans in the area. More information about this process will be available in the near future.

I’ll also be testifying tomorrow in Annapolis before the House Judiciary Committee in support of the Trust Act, state legislation that would establish an immigration sanctuary requirement statewide in Maryland. I’ll be focusing in my testimony on Takoma Park’s long, successful history as a sanctuary City.

Election Synchronization.  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170301-1.pdf. I support switching our local elections from odd to even years in order to increase turnout. I’ll send a separate message with more details in order to avoid making this one unduly lengthy.

MHP PILOT. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170301-2.pdf.  The Council earlier gave preliminary approval to this tax abatement, which equals about $120,000 over 10 years. I think that’s an acceptable amount to help this non-profit organization keep units in the relevant properties more affordable, and I intend to vote in favor of the proposal.

State Legislation.  We’ll be voting on resolutions relating to the various bills listed on the main agenda. We took initial straw votes on each of these bills last week (some in favor, some opposed), and I expect to vote for all of the resolutions.

Refugee Housing.  The text of this resolution wasn’t yet available at the time I prepared this message.

Sidewalk Access for Wheelchairs and Bicycles.  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170301-3.pdf. Based on recommendations of the Safe Roadways Committee, the work session will focus on a proposal to allow bicycle and wheelchair use on Takoma Park sidewalks. I support the change for wheelchairs; my initial reaction to the bicycle idea is less positive. I don’t object to younger children riding on sidewalks with adult supervision, but for safety reasons I’m not supportive of a broad allowance of cycling on City sidewalks. It’s conceivable that on a limited basis in certain areas the idea could make sense, and I look forward to hearing more about the proposal, including whether there could be a way to adopt the change more narrowly in areas where it would be a plus for safety.

Please feel free to be in touch with comments or question on any of the above agenda items or issues.

Peter Kovar

Takoma Park City Councilmember

Ward One




Election Synchronization

February 22, 2017 City Council Agenda