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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.

November 14, 2018 City Council Meeting Agenda

Dear Neighbors:

Here’s a link to the agenda for the November 18, 2018 City Council meeting:  https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-november-14-2018/. We’ll have an important discussion regarding how best to respond to the Federal Communications Commission’s recent small cell tower ruling. This week’s votes will be on changing the Takoma/Langley Crossroads Development Authority’s bylaws; amendments to the City purchasing code; the budget amendment that was discussed last week; and giving formal approval to the earlier Council decision to dedicate revenues connected to the Takoma Junction project to the City’s Affordable Housing Fund. There will also be presentations/discussions on a subdivision proposal for Ethan Allen Avenue; our State legislative priorities for the coming year; the Public Land Management Plan; and the Parking Management Plan.

Key Takoma Junction Meeting:  The public pre-submission meeting for Neighborhood Development Company's Takoma Junction plans will be on Tuesday, November 27 at 7:00 PM in the Takoma Park Middle School cafeteria. NDC is required to hold this meeting before they can submit their site into the County review process.

430 - 434 Ethan Allen Subdivision (also to be covered in the work session):  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181114-1-7rev.pdf.  This agenda item is focused on a subdivision that would enable the construction of several additional homes on the site in question. My main area of concern is the expected sale price of the new homes, which I would like to see end up in the more affordable range.

State Legislative Priorities:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181114-2.pdf.  We’ll hear from Alice Wilkerson, the City’s lead lobbyist on State legislative issues in Annapolis, who will offer perspectives on the outcome of the recent elections, share information about the upcoming legislative session, and participate in the Council’s discussion of legislative priorities.

Crossroads Development Authority:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181114-3.pdf. This is the second and final vote on changes to the CDA’s bylaws. We’re required to vote because the organization was created through City Council action. I’ll be voting in favor of the changes.

Takoma Park Purchasing Code:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181114-4.pdf.  The Council has discussed several times the proposals from staff to update our City purchasing code, which has not been updated since the year 2000. Councilmembers indicated general support for the changes, while also seeking some reductions in the proposed spending amounts that would trigger a requirement for Council approval. It appears that the information included for this agenda item doesn’t properly show the proposed changes, so I’ll recirculate the corrected information in a later email.

Budget Amendment:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181114-5.pdf  I’ll be voting yes on this amendment, which reflects adjustments to the budget based on unanticipated changes in spending and revenues.

Takoma Junction Revenue:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181114-6.pdf. During consideration of the Takoma Junction site plan in July, the Council agreed that revenues from the Junction project would be dedicated to the City’s Affordable Housing Fund. While I voted against the site plan, I agree with the idea of allocating these revenues to the fund. But I’d like to explore whether the idea should be considered on its own or as part of our broader work on affordable housing.

Public Land Management Plan:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181114-8.pdf.  This will be the Council’s initial look at a draft process for developing a comprehensive Public Land Management Plan.

Parking Management Plan:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181114-9.pdf.  An outside contractor previously prepared a study of parking conditions and challenges in the City, and also made a series of recommendations for changes to our parking policies. Owing to City staff changes and the press of other business, our efforts on parking were slowed. With this agenda item we’ll be returning to our review of this topic. I don’t anticipate any decisions to be made in the near future, but given that the management study and the recommendations would have a significant impact on Ward One, as we move ahead I’ll be convening opportunities -- as I did previously -- for residents to offer their views on potential changes to our parking policies and ideas of their own.

Small Cell Towers:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181114-10rev.pdf.  As outlined in the message appended below, which I circulated to Ward One email lists on November 8, the City is considering options for responding to the FCC ruling of September 26. That ruling limits local governments’ ability to restrict or otherwise establish guidelines and requirements for installation of small cell towers in our public Rights of Way. Takoma Park doesn’t currently have any rules in place covering small cell towers in our ROWs, and it’s my view that it’s important for us to have some protections in place before the FCC rule goes into effect on January 14.

Before January 14, the Council is scheduled to meet three more times this year (November 14, November 28, and December 5) and also on January 9. Given that timetable, plus the need to vote twice on any changes to our ordinances, and the challenges involved in dealing with this set of issues over the year-end holidays, it’s my sense that the best approach for us would be to work toward a final vote on some basic rules for small cell towers in our community at our December 5 meeting. Going forward, we could then consider further changes based on any decisions the County makes, taking into account what happens with legal challenges to the FCC ruling.

I would note that Montgomery County, through its zoning authority, is responsible for regulations on cell tower installation on private property in the City. Our draft cell phone legislation was initially aligned to some extent with what it appeared the County would adopt. With the County now having deferred action (they are unlikely to take this issue up again until some time after the New Year), it may make sense for us to scale back our draft legislation so we focus more specifically on a process connected to our ROWs. That’s one of the key points I look forward to getting a clearer answer on at this week’s meeting.

Please feel free to be in touch with comments or questions about any of the issues covered in this message.

Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council, Ward One

240-319-6281; www.councilmemberkovar.com

November 8, 2018 Message to Ward One Email Lists:

Thanks to all the residents who have posted comments and questions about the small cell tower issue. I share the view that we should take strong action to protect Takoma Park against harmful cell tower installation. As part of that, there are a range of environmental, health, esthetic, and community values at stake, and it’s important that we do all we can understand how best to address them.

I’m continuing to gather information and to talk to others who are knowledgeable about these matters, and I’ll pass along more details about my thinking going forward. Meanwhile, I’d like to continue hearing from residents about this topic. And I encourage those who are interested to make plans to speak in our public comment period at next week’s Council meeting (Wednesday, November 14 at 7:30 PM), when we’ll be discussing (but not voting on) this issue.

The key question, as I see it, is whether we should take steps to protect our community prior to when the Federal Communications Commission rule on cell towers that significantly pre-empts local authority goes into effect in January. I believe there’s a strong argument for the idea that, without putting in place some protections in the near future, we'd be leaving ourselves open to installation with little or no ability to resist. Others have suggested that putting in place guidelines prematurely would serve as an invitation to companies to come into our City.

I'm in the first camp -- at the moment we have no protections against cell tower installation in our public rights of way, and that greatly concerns me. Indeed, as many residents of North Takoma in particular have observed of late, our existing local ordinances don’t give us a lot of protection in the case of contractors working in our streets. I’d like to toughen that up, but at least there are some requirements in place. With cell towers, we don’t have anything at the present.

This is a complex set of issues, which could end up being affected by, among other things, legal action that a number of cities are filing against the FCC. So, I would be very interested in hearing from residents on whether they think we should pass a detailed ordinance, something that gives us basic protection but is perhaps more scaled back, or wait until the situation develops further before passing legislation. Again, my best sense at the moment of where things stand is that we should work to have something in place before the rule goes into effect, even if it’s not that detailed, with the ability to refine it later. But I’m open to hearing arguments to the contrary.

We had asked the City Attorney to draft legislation aimed at protecting the City to the extent possible in a way that was reasonably aligned with the FCC rule. You can see a version of that draft legislation that was prepared for our Council discussion on October 24: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20181024-6.pdf. Based on that discussion there will be further changes to the draft, which will be available before next week's meeting. I would add that at this point we’re not wedded to that specific draft. Even if we do go forward with Council legislation, we could adopt something that’s more basic, and of course we can amend this draft as we see fit. I welcome any suggestions along those lines.

Schedule-wise, the Council is scheduled to meet three more times this year (November 14, November 28 and December 5). Under that schedule, at next week’s meeting we’ll be able to discuss the subject, with a plan for votes on the following two meetings. While there had earlier been tentative plans for us to vote as soon as yesterday or next week, we’ve shifted those plans. I recommended yesterday, as did others, that we not vote at next week’s meeting. I’m pleased that’s the approach we’ll be taking, and I think that schedule gives us time to consider alternative approaches or timetables for our work.

I’m providing links below to several documents that may be of interest, including a new blog from the City Manager, a memo from the City Attorney, links to some of my other recent weekly blogs that include within them discussions of this subject, and a link to video of last night’s Council meeting, where there was discussion of the cell tower issue (my comments start at the 1 hour 19 minute mark).

City Manager Blog: https://takomaparkmd.gov/uncategorized/why-now-regulating-small-cell-antennas-in-takoma-park/

City Attorney Memo: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-manager/LEGAL-20181108-Attorney-Statement-re-Cell-Antenna-Ord.pdf

My Oct. 24 blog:  http://www.councilmemberkovar.com/blog/2018/10/23/october-24-2018-city-council-meeting-agenda

My Oct. 17 blog:  http://www.councilmemberkovar.com/blog/2018/10/15/agenda-for-october-17-2018-city-council-meeting

Video of last night's Council meeting:  https://takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/meetings-and-documents/city-council-video/

Sept. 25 message to list serves:  https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?shva=1#inbox/QgrcJHsBmHBXkJSMjXNgjCmWmnZXhnxcxLb

November 28, 2018 City Council Meeting Agenda

November 7, 2018 City Council Meeting Agenda