Here’s a link to the agenda for the October 17, 2018 City Council meeting: https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-october-17-2018/
We’re starting this week with a closed session at 6:00 PM to discuss the City Manager’s evaluation. In the public meeting there will be a vote on two routine items (in a single Consent Agenda vote): a contract for purchase of information systems technology and a reappointment to the Ethics Commission. Then we’ll have a work session, with discussions on the LED streetlight conversion project; the housing component of the Housing and Economic Development Strategic Plan; and our Community Development Block Grant funding.
Updates and Announcements
There was no Council meeting last week because of the Maryland Municipal League’s fall conference in Annapolis. I attended the conference, and had the opportunity to learn about a number of important topics cities and towns across the State are facing. Of particular interest was the information presented about the small cell phone tower regulations recently issued by the Federal Communications Commission. I expect Takoma Park to adopt new requirements before the end of the year governing installation of these towers. We don’t have much flexibility on this set of issues because of the way the FCC has written its rules. But it’s crucial we have our own guidelines in place soon, in part because State lawmakers may also consider new legislation next year that could further hamstring our ability to control this type of activity in our community.
The next Montgomery College Math-Science Building Design Charrette will take place tomorrow (Tuesday, October 16) from 7:00 - 9:30 PM at MC’s Cultural Arts Center on Georgia Avenue. More information is here: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/#inbox/FMfcgxvzLDvQgQNpkhQKrqQLlrnhsXPC
Utility Projects in North Takoma and PEN. Given the continued difficulties and poor communication around the Pepco and WSSC projects, I’m working on setting up a meeting this week with both utilities and City staff to develop improved protocols for their work in Takoma Park. I’m also considering possible changes to our local ordinances to tighten up how utilities operate here in town, and I’ll continue conferring with State and County elected officials about ways they can help us address these challenges.
Friends of the Library Book Sale. Saturday, October 20, Takoma Park, MD Library from 10:00 AM - 3:00 PM, rain or shine (on the Library lawn or in the Community Center).
Consent Agenda. I’ll be voting for the Consent Agenda, which includes these two items:
Information Systems Purchase: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181017-1a.pdf
Ethics Commission Reappointment: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181017-1b.pdf
LED Streetlights: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181017-2.pdf. The City has been working for several years to plan for replacement of our existing streetlights with more energy efficient Light-Emitting Diode (LED) technology. Conversion to LED will save energy and cost the City less over time.
Based on valuable feedback from residents and input from a representative of the International Dark-Sky Association, we’ve made some important strides toward refining the plan. At this point, the current proposal we are looking at calls for installation of streetlights at the 3,000 Kelvin level with residential streets at a 24 watt level. Commercial areas would likely have somewhat higher wattage. LED streetlights may have a different appearance as compared with the lights most of us have been used to, and some people notice the difference more than others. It’s my view that installing LED streetlights at the levels we’re considering is reasonable, especially taking into account their energy efficiency.
There are, however, two key questions I’d like to have resolved before we move ahead on the plan. First, I think a key question for the new lights is how they can be “shielded” to minimize unintended shining into people’s homes, pedestrians’ eyes, etc. While the proposed resolution to implement the streetlight conversion refers to shielding, it seems too reliant on residents having to come forward to request shielding, as opposed to making it a more basic part of the conversion effort. It’s my hope that we’ll be able to strengthen the resolution on that point, and I’ll be sharing some ideas on how to do that with my Council colleagues.
I’d also like to have information on whether there are other considerations to be taken into account for LED streetlights in areas of the City that have historic designations. I look forward to hearing details on that issue as we moving forward on the conversion project.
Housing: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181017-3.pdf. As noted in past updates, developing a coherent, longer term plan to preserve and promote housing affordability is a top priority for me and for the Council as a whole. This discussion will be a continuation of our ongoing efforts toward that goal, based in part on the draft strategic plan developed last year by our outside contractor. We discussed the housing recommendations in that plan most recently in our October 3 Council meeting. You can see City staff’s summary analysis of those ideas here: https://hcd-takomapark.s3.amazonaws.com/Strategic-Plan-Housing-20181003.pdf.
I see three main areas on which we should focus:
Preserving our existing rental housing stock and strengthening protections for tenants
Developing additional ways of helping homeowners, including senior citizens, to continue living in Takoma Park in the current period of increasing home assessments
Increasing the City’s housing stock (both ownership and rental) with a focus on expanding opportunities for low and moderate income families to move here
It’s my view that there are a number of ideas in the Draft Strategic Plan that have value as a means of helping us advance in those areas. Some may require us to partner with other levels of government, NGOs or private sector financial institutions in order to become fully operational. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to explore options along those lines. In addition, I don’t view the draft plan’s recommendations as the only ideas we should consider. I’ll be suggesting some other approaches, and I expect some of my colleagues will as well.
Furthermore, I think it’s important that, as part of any strategic plan, we set some overall goals. These could be concepts like, for example, no net loss of affordable rental units connected to the Purple Line or a specified numerical increase in middle income homes by a certain date. I believe that having several broad goals of that nature will help us zero in on specific strategies that make sense for our community.
Finally, we will eventually need to reconcile some of our housing goals and strategies with our economic development approach (which is also part of the draft strategic plan). I think it makes sense to focus on housing first, but we do need to keep in mind the important link between housing policies and overall economic development.
Community Development Block Grant: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181017-4.pdf
The City is in line to receive approximately $91,000 in Federal Community Development Block Grant Funds from the Department of Housing and Economic Development. CDBG funds must be used in ways that benefit low and moderate income residents. City staff have proposed utilizing the funds to make improvements in and around a cluster of garden apartments in Ward 5, a proposal which would satisfy the income requirements. We’ll be hearing more details in this week’s meeting, but based on what I’ve read so far I anticipate being supportive.
I would add that I’d like us to consider whether it would make sense, in the context of our work on the Housing Strategic Plan (see above), to add future CDBG allocations into our Affordable Housing fund. This could help ensure that we use the money in a way that fits in well with our overall housing plans.
Please feel free to be in touch with questions or comments about any of these matters.
Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council, Ward One