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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.

October 24, 2018 City Council Meeting Agenda

Dear Neighbors:

Here’s a link to the agenda for the October 24 City Council meeting:  https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-october-24-2018/.  The agenda includes votes on the LED Streetlight conversion (with final votes in November), followed by a Consent Agenda vote on three items: Community Development Block Grant funding, purchase of Police camera systems, and appointments to the Youth Council. Then we’ll have work session discussions on these four issues: changes to the structure of the Takoma/Langley Crossroads Development Authority; the proposed approach to Council review of the Tree Ordinance and tree canopy goals; responding to the Federal Communications Commission rule relating to installation of small cell towers in municipalities; and proposed amendments to the City’s laws relating to purchase of goods and services.

Council Schedule Next Week:  The Council will not be meeting on Wednesday, October 31, but we will have a special meeting on the evening of Monday the 29th devoted to further discussion of the housing components of the Draft Housing and Economic Development Strategic Plan:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181029-1.pdf.  I’ll be missing that meeting due to personal travel. Prior to the meeting I’ll share with my Council colleagues and City staff some thoughts on housing goals and programs I’d like us to consider for inclusion in the Strategic Plan.

Important Updates

Montgomery College Math-Science Building Charrette.  http://mcblogs.montgomerycollege.edu/tpss-math-science-building/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/2018-1016-COMMUNITY-MTG-5-Final-Presentation.pdf. At the October 16 meeting, the architects presented a design that will form the basis of the plan they send into the County review process. This isn’t the “final” design and the external elements are yet to be determined (that will be covered in future charrette meetings). While I still have questions and concerns about the proposal, the most recent design has brought the height of the building lower than in the previous designs, as well as setting back the mechanicals on the roof to help minimize their visibility. In addition, the setback at the Takoma Avenue-Fenton Street intersection by Belle Ziegler Park would be larger than the current setback there for Falcon Hall. I’ll continue to monitor action on this project and to work with residents to help ensure that their concerns about the building’s impact on the neighborhood are taken into account.

Utility Projects in North Takoma and PEN.  The impact of the projects on the community seems to be going from bad to worse, and the need for better coordination between the utilities and better communication from them is more pronounced than ever. Along with City staff and the Mayor, I’ll be meeting on Wednesday with representatives of Pepco and WSSC to discuss how to make improvements in the way the projects are being conducted, with an overall goal of having our neighborhoods treated in a more respectful manner. I’ll provide a report on our discussions after the meeting. In addition, I’m exploring making changes to our local laws relating to how contractors operate here in the City as part of our work to address the recent FCC ruling on small cell towers, which we’re planning before the end of the year (see below).

Community Announcements

2018 Elections.  Election Day is Tuesday, November 6, with polls open from 7:00 AM - 8:00 PM. There are no local City elections this year, but you can vote for positions ranging from Governor to U.S. Senate and Congress, State Legislators, County Executive and Council, School Board and many others. Plus there are several referendum questions. I’ll be at the Takoma Park Elementary School polling site for much of the day. I hope to see you there. Early voting starts on Thursday, October 25 at 10:00 AM at the Silver Spring Civic Center and other County locations. Details: https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/elections/earlyvoting/index.html

The Future of John Nevins Andrews School. Residents are welcome to attend a meeting on Thursday, October 25 at 7:00 PM in the school’s gym to discuss potential future uses of the privately owned building, with the previously planned sale to a child care company cancelled.

Monster Bash 2018.  The City’s annual Halloween celebration takes place Saturday, October 27 from 1:00 - 5:00 PM. Anyone is welcome to march in the costume parade, which starts at the intersection of Ethan Allen and Carroll Avenue (near the Co-op entrance). Prizes are awarded for the best costumes in various categories.

LED Resolution and Contract:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181024-1-2.pdf.  As described in several previous blogs, the City has been planning for some time to convert our street lights to LED technology, which will substantially improve energy efficiency and lead to significant financial savings over time. The current plan calls for lights at the 3000 Kelvin level and 24 watts in most residential areas. The lower wattage levels are in part the result of resident advocacy, as are the plans for shielding of lights so they don’t shine directly into residents’ homes. I have some questions relating to how the shielding will work, how the installation will work in historic areas, etc., and I look forward to getting clarifications on those points. I know some residents have called for lights to be at the 2700 Kelvin level, rather than 3000. Given that reports of different health impacts between the two levels appear inconclusive, and taking into account likely substantial delays in being able to obtain lower Kelvin level lights, I’m comfortable going forward with the current plan. There will be two votes on this proposal, with the final vote likely taking place on November 1.

I’ll be voting yes on the Consent Agenda, which includes these three items:

CDBG funding:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181024-3a.pdf

Police Cameras:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181024-3b.pdf

Youth Council Appointments:  The names of the appointees will be available prior to the vote.

Takoma/Langley Crossroads Development Authority: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181024-4.pdf.  This important organization representing business in the Crossroads area is considering making changes to its bylaws. Because the group was formally established through City Council action, we need to approve the proposed changes.

Tree Ordinance & Tree Canopy:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181024-5.pdf.  As part of our priority setting process, the Council designated three tree related issues as priorities: formulating tree canopy goals, considering changes to the Tree Ordinance, and exploring how best to improve education and community outreach on healthy tree practices. At this week’s meeting we’ll be discussing a proposed approach for moving forward in those areas. A key part of the approach will be arranging several opportunities for residents to weigh in with their suggestions and recommendations for changes to the Ordinance.

Small Cell Towers:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181024-6.pdf.  The Federal Communications Commission has issued new regulations on installation of small cell towers that significantly pre-empt the rights of municipalities like Takoma Park to set their own rules regarding where and under what circumstances the towers can be installed (including the length of review times and the amount of fees). The FCC rules are expected to be finalized by the beginning of the year. And while they could be delayed or modified depending on the results of lawsuits or the composition of the U.S. Congress following the upcoming elections, it seems clear that -- in order to have a chance at imposing at least some reasonable limits on cell tower installation in our community -- it will be important to have in place our own set of rules before the end of the year.

The challenge will be having our local rules reasonably compliant with the FCC regulations. If they aren’t, they could be rejected in the courts. This is the dilemma the Montgomery County Council has faced with its work on this issue (which is described in the background material for this agenda item). This is a complex area with a lot of uncertainties. I’ve been part of several recent meetings where the topic’s been discussed, including a forum at the Maryland Municipal League’s (MML) fall conference in Annapolis, a Montgomery County MML meeting hosted last week by Takoma Park, and a meeting yesterday for County elected officials with U.S. Senator Ben Cardin. As we move ahead on these issues, I intend to do all I can to ensure that our local cell tower requirements are as strong and as protective of our community as possible, taking into account the strictures of the FCC rules. And, as mentioned above, I’ll also be exploring some amendments to help us better control the work of utilities and other contractors in the City.

City Purchasing Code:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181024-7.pdf.  The sections of the City Code relating to the purchase of goods and services haven’t been revised since prior to the year 2000. The staff is proposing a series of changes to update the Code and to help ensure that it more accurately reflects the way the City does business today.

As always, please feel to be in touch with questions or comments about any of these issues.

Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council. Ward One

240-319-6281; www.councilmemberkovar.com

November 7, 2018 City Council Meeting Agenda

Agenda for October 17, 2018 City Council Meeting