The following is a link to the agenda for the September 13 City Council meeting: https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-september-13-2017/.
There are four items: a resolution setting out the terms of this fall’s City election; a work session on several proposed affordable housing related Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT); a further discussion on the potential renovation of the New Hampshire Avenue Recreation Center; and a discussion on renaming City streets associated with Civil War confederate figures. Prior to the regular meeting, the Council will be briefed in a closed session by the City Attorney regarding legal aspects of the recent Court ruling that invalidated the County Safe Grow law (the County has announced it will be appealing that ruling). I’ll be providing more information on that topic in a future message.
Before providing details on the agenda items, I’d like to note that I won’t be present at this week’s meeting because I’ll be attending my father-in-law’s funeral. I will let the Mayor, my colleagues and the City Manager know my views on the topics to be considered by the Council, and I’ll watch video of the meeting afterwards.
Also, tonight at 7:30 PM the City’s Nominating Caucus will take place at the Community Center. This is the event at which candidates for City Council and Mayor in this fall’s election are formally put on the ballot. It’s open to the public, and it’s a great local grassroots political tradition.
City Election. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170913-1-rev.pdf. This is the second and final vote on this resolution, which lays out the details of our November 7 election. I voted for it when it came before us previously, and I expect it to pass with minimal discussion in my absence.
PILOTs. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170913-2-rev.pdf. PILOTs are a frequently used tool for improving or preserving affordable housing units. In this case, two experienced affordable housing organizations have requested PILOTs for three properties in the City, with about 100 units that would benefit from the tax break. I’d like to hear more from City staff about the details, though my initial inclination is to be supportive.
The amount of the tax break is $350,000 over 10 years, or about $35,000 per year. That may be a reasonable figure to help ensure that 100 units remain affordable, but I’d like to have a better sense of how significant the impact of this additional funding will be. In other words, what’s the current range of rents in the relevant units and how will the funds be used to either improve them or make them more affordable? This is just a discussion; the Council won’t be voting on the PILOT proposals this week.
The Council has previously discussed options relating to potential rehabilitation of the New Hampshire Avenue Recreation Center, which is small and outdated, and offers less than ideal recreation facilities for that part of Takoma Park. These discussions have focused on the idea of a development company constructing housing units on the site (which would be a money-making enterprise for them) and also rehabbing the rec center as part of the project at no or minimal cost to the City. Several companies responded to the City’s solicitation of Letters of Interest (LOI), and four are under consideration.
The Council now faces several choices, including selecting one of the companies and beginning to work with them to develop a proposal with input from the community; issuing a separate Request for Proposals (RFP) from a number of companies, following community consultation on our recreation needs; or leaving the rec center as it currently is. In addition, because the plan is premised on the idea of swapping land with the County (which currently owns the rec center and the land it sits on), it may make sense for the City to initiate discussions with the County aimed at undertaking the land swap.
At this point, I’m leaning toward the RFP approach because the LOI process hasn't produced a set of proposals that we can easily compare. In addition, I’m reluctant to select a company to take on the project before we have a better idea of community views on the topic. As for initiating discussions with the County on the land swap, I would be comfortable with some general discussions to explore the possibility. But I wouldn’t want us to take on responsibility for the rec center at least until we have a clearer idea of what the overall project will look like and which company we’ll be able to work with. This is especially important given the ongoing efforts to get fairer financial compensation from the County for the work we already do in the City on recreation (and in other areas like Policing and trash pickup).
Given the recent developments in Charlottesville and elsewhere, I agree that the City should explore changing the names of some streets that are associated with Confederate generals or leaders. This isn’t a time to passively accept honoring those who led the fight to preserve slavery. However, it’s vital that, first of all, we understand the historical background to the various names, including whether they are actually connected to the Confederacy. So, more work needs to be done on that point. Second, there may be a significant impact on people’s title deeds, businesses, mail delivery and other matters where one’s address is important. We need to research that, too.
Both of those concerns may move us toward the recommendation of the City’s Commemoration Commission, which is suggesting that objectionable names be retained along with ceremonial second names. This would allow us to show our disapproval of the historical figure in question without disrupting residents’ lives. In addition, it would give us the opportunity to explain the history behind the controversy while also potentially celebrating some more modern day prominent Takoma Park figures. While I would like to hear more from residents (who I encourage to be in touch with me about this issue), I think the Commemoration Commission idea has promise.
As always, please be in touch with questions or comments about any of the issues described in this message.
Takoma Park City Council