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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.

January 14 and 16 City Council Meetings

Dear Neighbors:

There are two City Council meetings this week, the Green Team meeting on Monday, January 14 at 7:00 PM in the Azalea Room, and the regular Council meeting on Wednesday the 16 at 7:30 PM in the Council Auditorium. No votes are scheduled.

January 14 Green Team Meeting Agenda:  https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/green-team-city-council-and-the-committee-on-the-environment-joint-meeting/  The Green Team meeting is an annual meeting of the Council and the Committee on the Environment for the purpose of developing priorities in the areas of sustainability, environmental protection, etc. It’s open to the public.

January 16 Council Meeting Agenda:  https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-january-16-2019/. The agenda for the January 16 Council meeting includes a presentation on a proposal to ban single use plastic straws in local restaurants within the City, along with discussions on a Commercial Property definition as part of our work to consider possible changes to the commercial tax structure, and the Housing Strategic Plan.

Council Priority-Setting Process. This month the Council will conduct its annual priority-setting process. This will involve two special “retreats” (open to the public) on January 24 and 29 (both at 7:00 PM, in the Community Center), where we’ll discuss changes to our existing priorities. The updated priorities document that results from this process will be voted on later by the Council. Meanwhile, in preparation for the retreats, on the evening of Tuesday, January 22 I’m hosting a meeting in the Community Center for Ward One residents to discuss with me their ideas on municipal priorities. I’ll provide the location in a separate email.

City Manager’s Evening Winter Weather Advisory.  https://takomaparkmd.gov/city-blog/evening-winter-weather-update/.  I previously circulated this statement from City Manager Suzanne Ludlow, but I’m including it here because it has useful information about yard waste pick-up and residents’ sidewalk snow shoveling responsibilities.

Tree Ordinance Survey.  As the Council moves forward on considering changes to the City’s Tree Ordinance, we’re going to be seeking a wide range of opinions from residents about the ordinance. One way for residents to weigh in with their views is through this online survey:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2Y76DJ2

Council Passage of Small Cell Tower Ordinance.  I’m pleased that in last week’s Council meeting, we unanimously approved a strong set of requirements that will apply to telecom companies which may be interested in erecting so-called “small cell towers” in the City. As I’ve noted previously, our work on this topic is in the context of, and largely in response to, the recent Federal Communication Commission ruling that significantly pre-empts the authority of local governments to regulate small cell towers. We’re part of a lawsuit challenging the FCC ruling, but in the meantime it’s important for us to have in place the strongest possible law governing small towers before the ruling official goes into effect next week.

You can see background information on this topic and the language of the ordinance we considered last week through this link: https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-wednesday-january-9-2019/. We tightened up the ordinance in several ways before passage, one of which I’d like to mention briefly here. Because it will take several months for City staff to develop the more detailed regulations to implement the cell tower requirements, the draft ordinance called for the new law to go into effect 90 days after the Council’s vote of approval. Several of us were concerned that the City would be more vulnerable to the siting of cell towers during that period, since we currently have virtually no requirements. To address this concern I offered an amendment, which was approved unanimously, to have the new ordinance go into effect immediately. There could be some complications because the ordinance will be in effect with some of the details not spelled out in regulations. But that seemed far preferable to waiting 90 more days, and I’m glad we were able to make the change.

Plastic Straws:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190116-1.pdf.  I share the goal of phasing out plastic as much as we can, including the use of plastic straws, and I agree that Takoma Park should continue to be a leader on issues of this type. In that context, I’m very appreciative of the work that’s been done by the local group of young people and other residents -- calling their initiative The Last Plastic Straw Takoma Park -- to bring this issue to the forefront. I look forward to the presentation, including information on possible impacts a plastic straw phase-out would have on small businesses in the community, and on how we can make sure the concerns of disabled customers who need to use straws can be appropriately addressed.

Commercial Property Tax:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190116-2rev.pdf. With the Council having eliminated the local Inventory Tax, we’ll be exploring in this work session potential options for making up some of the approximately $320,000 in revenues that has been collected annually through that tax from businesses in the City.

Housing Strategic Plan:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190116-3.pdf. We’ll continue our discussion of the housing component of our Housing and Economic Development Strategic Plan, with a focus on affordability. As we consider ways of preserving and promoting affordability, I think it’s vital that we focus on working to maintain affordability for renters and those who own their homes. In addition, I’d like to see us develop ways of expanding the stock of affordable rental and home ownership opportunities in the City. These goals are challenging, especially given that Takoma Park is a small City facing continuing increases in home value assessments (as evidenced by the recent home assessment updates, which for most residents showed increases). In order to enable us to achieve those goals, I remain convinced that -- especially given our relatively small size in the overall Metropolitan Washington, DC area -- we’ll have to find a way to partner with one or more larger non-profit groups or financial institutions. I’ll be pushing for that idea as one of our key initiatives as we continue our work toward finalizing the Strategic Plan.

Please 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

January 9, 2019 City Council Meeting Agenda